Following through on a promise made at the most recent state of the parish address, the administration of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome is developing a community disaster recovery plan.
The document isn't concerned with pulling people out of flooded houses and getting the lights turned back on. Rather, the All Hazards Recovery Plan looks to the months and years after a hurricane or other disaster when the city-parish is applying for health and human services grants and performing long-term rebuilding of the local economy.
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The plan looks at the types of questions that are asked after a disaster and anticipates how East Baton Rouge would respond while gathering baseline data that can be used to apply for federal aid so hospitals, schools, roads and other important facilities could be rebuilt faster.
Putting these systems in place is "low-hanging fruit," Clay Rives said at a recent public meeting in Zachary. The director of the Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has invited residents to weigh in on the plan and help the parish identify priorities. Another meeting will be held at the Greenwell Springs Library on Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A survey form is also available at brla.gov/1368/East-Baton-Rouge-Parish-Recovery-Plan.
The maps that dictate how much south Louisianans pay for flood insurance could be redrawn, though Baton Rouge-area leaders have their doubts.
Charlotte Thomas, a resident of the Alsen/St. Irma Lee area, said during the Zachary meeting that she's already concerned about air pollution and possible water contamination from the nearby industrial facilities, landfills and sewers; now she also worries about releases of chemicals and debris if those sites are hit by a storm.
Other goals include identifying the nonprofits, state agencies, professional organizations and neighborhood groups that could help restore the community in the event of disaster like the 2016 flood. Rives said that storm emphasized the need for the All Hazards plan. When it's finished, it will anticipate scenarios in which the parish qualifies for federal aid and when East Baton Rouge may need to lead and fund it's own clean-up, he said.
Two years after a flood ravaged the capital region, construction of new homes proceeds in much the same way.
Officials are trying to gather the type of residential building data that would enable the parish to more quickly apply for federal housing aid. They're looking at the parish's capacity for homeless shelters and mental health services. The plan would even consider which bridges are most important, to make sure hospital staff can make it to work and medicine can be delivered, said Tom Donnelly, a recovery coordinator on a team sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide technical assistance.
All that baseline data should help the parish to target its greatest needs and turn around grant requests more quickly.
"Resilience is really the operative term we're trying to enforce," Donnelly said.
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In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, locals are driven by adrenaline-fueled momentum, and officials are often physically located in the same room — the emergency operations center — said Justin Kozak, a policy analyst at the Center for Planning Excellence, a nonprofit organization that coordinates urban, rural and regional planning efforts in Louisiana.
Having the All Hazards Recovery Plan in place should encourage the momentum and communication to carry forward as East Baton Rouge transitions from short-term response to long-term recovery, he said.